Neckbones’ Rum Diary: The J.M Incident

4 Nov

After boarding the ferry in Dominica, I downed an extra-strength Dramamine. The weather was clear, the waters calm, yet I didn’t want to risk a bout of seasickness before arriving at my destination: the J.M Rum distillery in Martinique.

Keeping my eyes straight ahead and sitting upright, I ignored the young man next to me and the others around me who were retching into plastic bags given out by the ferry’s crew as the boat was pummeled mercilessly in the channel between the two islands, also known, as I found out later as the “Blue Vomit.”

The ferry on the seemingly tranquil “blue vomit.”

With Martinique in sight, I was a bit groggy and wobbly, but my stomach remained intact and, once I exited the ferry onto the streets of Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital city, a taxi whisked me to the northeast tip of the island to a place known as Macouba. I knew we were close and as the taxi descended down a steep incline, the red copper-tin roofs came into view and I could see the steam from the stills rising from the distillery through the dense greenery of palm fronds.

The distillery in Macouba

As we pulled in front of the old distillery, I smelled the alcohol-tinged cane juice as it was being “cooked” in the stills. Taking a healthy whiff, the vapors immediately restored my equilibrium, still somewhat shaky from the Blue Vomit nightmare.

Passing barrels of rum and ignoring a tour of the facilities, I headed straight to the tasting room/gift shop. A sample of J.M’s velvety white rum improved my situation even further but it wasn’t until I sipped the brand’s  VSOP “rhum vieux”  that I knew I had finally found what I was seeking. The taste was something so pure; so delicately smooth that the horrors of the Blue Vomit were worth the ordeal just to sip this amber nectar.

Stills and barrels of rum

My mission complete, I bought a bottle and returned to Fort-de-France where the next day I was to board a plane to San Juan and then another back to New York.

Keeping my precious cargo close by in my carry on bag, I was instructed by security at the Martinique airport to put the rum in a clear plastic bag. I did as told and was granted access to the plane.

Rushing through San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to make my connection to JFK, I waited on line at security. When it was my turn to pass through the gates, an overzealous customs officer, and most likely a rum aficionado, spied my bottle of J.M.

“You can’t take that on,” he said gruffly.

“But it’s in a clear plastic bag,” I pleaded.

“You could go back and check it in,” he offered, obviously knowing I had no time to do so. “or…I’ll have to take it from you.”

I stared at him. He stared at me and then held out his hand. I had no choice. He took the bottle, hiding a satisfied grin behind his bogus official demeanor.

The shock hit me as I settled into my seat. I was trembling. Once we were in the air and I knew my prized possession was gone, tears came to my eyes.

“Why are you so sad,” the abuela  who was sitting next to me and on her way to visit her daughter and grandchildren in the Bronx,  asked. “Have you left a loved one behind?”

I turned to her, dabbed at my eyes and nodded.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Time will cure your sorrow. Watch the movie. It’s funny.”

I looked up at the small screen. It was something with Adam Sandler. I didn’t laugh.

Even the comedy of Adam Sandler could not penetrate my sorrow.

The wise abuela was right. Time did heal the deep wound of loss. When I first returned to New York, I frantically searched the many liquor stores looking for the J.M VSOP Rhum Vieux, but with no luck. I abandoned my search and resigned myself to settle for other “old” rums.

But then, one evening when dining at a cacophonous, yet delicious high end eatery downtown, my eyes were drawn to the offering of Rhum J.M VSOP on the restaurant’s cocktail menu. My heart pounded. I looked for my waiter and saw him at another table. I waved. I snapped my fingers. I rudely whistled. People were staring. I didn’t care.  I needed him now.

Seeing my frantic state, he rushed over. “I want that!” I pointed to the listing of the J.M VSOP on the menu.

I tried to control my excitement as I waited at my table. I tapped my foot. I chewed on my lower lip. I stroked my cell phone and then it arrived. The beautiful amber fluid, served with just a twist of lime. I sipped. It was exactly how I remembered it. “Where,” I asked my waiter, “can I buy this?”

Liquid gold

He said he would check with the beverage manager. He returned with the name of the liquor store on a business card. I knew the place. I checked my watch. It wouldn’t be open now. I would have to wait until the next day.

I slept little that night, got up early and headed to the store to wait until they opened. As soon as the gates were pulled and the doors unlocked, I rushed in and found the rum section. There it was. The price was astronomical, at least twice what I paid for in Martinique, but I didn’t care. I bought a bottle that came in decorative box.

The rum now sits in a glass cabinet. I have yet to open it. I tried one evening, but I couldn’t do it. If I opened it, I would begin to drink it and eventually, maybe in a month, maybe more, the bottle would be empty. The thought chilled me to the core.

I’ve come now to accept that I will never open it, yet I do not care. It is mine. I possess it. And no one can take it away again…

Mine. All mine.

One Response to “Neckbones’ Rum Diary: The J.M Incident”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ti’ Time | Fried Neck Bones...and some home fries - April 5, 2013

    […] here in the States are the rums from Martinique. And I wrote about some of those in my post Neckbones Rum Diary: The J.M Incident. If you can get your hands on white rum from Guadeloupe or Haiti, I’m sure they will more than […]

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